Saturday, August 15, 2015

Film Pairing – Mystery Writers Writing About Mystery Writers

There are two Sleuths, one with Lawrence Olivier as a sophisticated and revered best-selling thriller writer and Michael Caine as…as…well we don’t quite know as the games begin.  Hair stylist.  In the second Sleuth, it is Michael Caine who is the older and well-practiced game player. To keep things complicated (we’ll sort them out), Caine again plays a once-revered writer – this time a playwright in Deathtrap. I’m partial to movies portraying writers because writers tend to view themselves as sophisticated elegant, witty, and wise. Of course we are.

These are three films that seem, two intentionally, to be from the same seed:  Sleuth1972, directed by Joseph Mankiewicz and written by Anthony Shaffer; Deathtrap 1982, written by Ira Levin and directed by Sidney Lumet; and Sleuth 2007 directed by Kenneth Branagh and written by Harold Pinter. Unfortunately Olivier’ 1972 version isn’t available, so I’ll simply take the overwhelming number of positive reviews and its ample number of Academy Awards as a recommendation.  Unfortunately, the 1972 version is for another night.  For tonight there’s just the two:

Reeve & Caine In Deathtrap
Deathtrap (1982) — A long-running Broadway play, Deathtrap is an enjoyable way to spend an evening. It’s talky, of course and small, perfect for a TV screen. In addition to Michael Caine, we are reminded of Christopher Reeve’s good looks and acting skills.  Also, his daring.  One of the first on-screen male-to-male kisses (between Caine and Reeve] was the scandal of the times and purportedly cost the studio  $10 million in lost revenue. This is almost a “how-to” create a mystery plot with twists, surprises, misdirection and reverses, while also making fun of mystery conventions in general. At one point Reeve’s character claims to be writing a more “important’ novel than the thriller, which he claims is all plot with two-dimensional characters.

Sleuth (2007) — At one point in the more conventional Deathtrap, we see a deceitfully worshipful Christopher Reeve enter the aging playwright’s rustic cabin.  He says, “Wow, it’s beautiful. Michael Caine, the playwright, is obviously bored. He says he would prefer something more high-tech. In Sleuth we find another aging writer, this time Caine as a worldly mystery novelist, in his very high tech home about to engage in another game, this time with what first appears to be an innocent Jude Law.

Law & Caine In Sleuth
Much like the fencing match between Reeve and Caine, here we have a more abstract fencing match between Law and Caine.  And while Caine has no problem filling the frame in any movie he makes, Law chews the scenery in this one.   He does a masterful if not conspicuous job of changing character, from tough, boorishly masculine to flirtatiously bitchy. Law goes for broke and one can’t not watch him.  There are really only three characters here.  Caine, Law and the house, all of them showing off, keeping us riveted to a mystery that isn’t, a crime that never happens.  That, in itself, is fascinating.

In sleuth Caine drinks lots of Vodka and Law lots of Scotch, though a highly disturbed Law eventually guzzles Caine’s Vodka. Do what you will in the privacy of your own home.  As I’ve mentioned before a glass of ice with lemon and tonic can create a sense of behaving badly without behaving badly.

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